Starting January 1st, the recreational use of marijuana will be legal in Illinois. The Winnebago County Health Department stopped at Thursday’s county board meeting to discuss the health impacts.

“I thought it was important to share with them the perspective from public health,” said Winnebago County Health Department Public Health Administrator Dr. Sandra Martell. “What some of the implications and considerations as they look at ordinances, as they look at taxes.”

Dr. Martell says the legalization of cannabis in 2020 doesn’t make it safe.

“There’s so many substances that we can talk about that are legal, that you can purchase that are not safe, if they’re not used appropriately by the right age people and without the understanding of the side effects, consequences and health impacts.”

Marijuana usage among minors is a main concern for the the health department. The Illinois Youth Survey shows usage triples from 8th to 12th grade.

“Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco, vaping products, marijuana are inappropriate for people’s brains who are still developing, whether they’re under 18 or pregnant mothers,” said Winnebago County board member Daniel Fellars (D-19).

Dr. Martell also presented a concern of increases in mental illness diagnoses among cannabis users, in a community with a shrinking number of available services.

“Adding another substance that could continue that growing concern,” said Dr. Martell. “We need to make sure we’re able to fund and increase the funding to address the needs of the community.”

While acknowledging the risks, Winnebago County budget issues could be helped.

“There’s a balance of the downside of the legalized marijuana and the benefit is financial,” said Winnebago County board member Aaron Booker (R-1).